An Itchy Situation

17 10 2008

Sometimes in life you just have to say… “oops!”.  The other day I was educating some young preschool minds as to how nature prepares for the cold winter months ahead.  We were exploring the changing leaves, hibernation, migration, food gathering and of course cocoons.  I was fortunate enough to have found earlier in the day, about six little fuzzy balls behind a sign at the nature center I work at and brought them to the program.  As I was explaining how some insects hide beneath the bark of trees while others form a cocoon to sleep away the winter, I decided to pass around my recent discoveries for all to experience.  After all, I am a strong believer in hands on education.  Students learn more through experience.

Itchy little balls

Itchy little balls

If I had more time that morning I probably would have done some research on these tiny balls of fuzz and realized they were a tussock moth cocoon which comes from the weather forecaster we know as the woolly bear caterpillar.  But being rushed that morning, I didn’t know about the irritating properties of this creature until it was too late.

I think it was during the leaf rubbings that one little girl kept complaining to her mother about her hands itching.  I noticed the girls fingers were a bit red, but chalked it up to her scratching them.  After about five minutes of complaints, I started to wonder if this young girl was allergic to crayons.  That’s when Mom decided it was the cocoon.  We washed her hands to little avail and spent the rest of our time together trying to take her mind off the itching.  Another problem was that the itchiness had spread to the rest of the group.  At this point I was trying to calm everyone’s worries and ignore the fact that my own hands were a slight bit itchy.  Nothing a good walk outdoors on a cool autumn day wouldn’t cure.  I succeeded at the art of distraction and we enjoyed the rest of the morning.

The tussock moth when in its caterpillar or cocoon stage of its life cycle is covered with irritating hairs as a defense against predators.  If an animal tries to devour one of these soon-to-be moths, they will find themselves with a very irritated mouth and will try to discard the object.  In the least they will avoid trying to eat another.

As a naturalist, I am always trying to quench my thirst for knowledge of nature.  I always like to delve into nature to learn about it first hand.  I look at my little “oops!” as more of a learning experience rather than a mishap.  The children survived.  Hands went back to their proper color, and we all learned why animals leave these little guys alone.

I had a similar experience about a month ago while hiking and exploring Letchworth State Park.  I noticed a lime green caterpillar with a unique hair design clinging to the side of a tree.  Wanting to get photographs of this beautiful creature, I lifted it off the tree and moved it to a sunnier location to get better lighting for my photographs.  Upon later research, I discovered that this awesome creature was an IO moth caterpillar.  The “spines” on the caterpillar are actually filled with a poison that can cause swelling and severe reactions to it.  Luckily I wasn’t sensitive to the poison.

IO moth caterpillar

IO moth caterpillar

Nature never ceases to amaze me.  There are so many ways that animals protect themselves in the dangers of the natural world.  We forget how tough it can be out there as we snuggle in front of a warm fire on a cold winters eve.  The wild animals have evolved many unique ways to survive in the wilds.  The next time you are outdoors exploring nature, be careful, but enjoy the experiences.


Opportunities Up Close

14 10 2008

Nature never ceases to amaze me.  Especially when you look at it close up.  During a recent visit to the closeup world behind my digital camera lens I came across a scene that I had never witnessed before.  A dragonfly had landed right before my lens and was devouring another insect.  I knew that they were carnivorous, but that fact had always been at the back of my mind, overshadowed by the beauty of these water loving creatures.

I had to halt my adventure for a brief time while I watched the scene unfold before me.  This was after all an adventure all its own.  I can’t wait for nature to offer me another opportunity to experience its wonder.


9 10 2008

I can still remember when I used to have my kids asking me how to do things on the computer and the internet.  After all, I do have a diploma in computer programming.  Somewhere… somehow… I got lost in a time warp and missed all the new technology out there.  Maybe I fell into the same syndrome MY parents have.  You know the one… “got stuck in the past” syndrome.  I’m slowly catching up with my teenage kids as far as technology goes.  No, I don’t have a facebook account and probably never will, but I do IM’s and have a flicker account.  Now it is time to step it up one more notch.  BLOGS!

I’m still not certain what all this blogging is all about and what I may do with it, but we’ll give it a try.  After all, some of my adult friends are doing it.

So here is my first blog message (or whatever it is called).  Be certain to check back here from time to time as I figure out what the hell I am actually doing.  No… I won’t be asking my kids for advice on this.  After all, I am still under the belief that they still think they know more than me.  I don’t want them to realize that they may be right.